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Lee Reinhart;
a Perpetual Patriot


by

Denny Meyer

The first thing that happened as I began my phone interview with Lee Reinhart, on active duty somewhere in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was a siren going off in the background there, and the sound of a distant thud.  "Hang on," he said, "I have to find out what's going on....."  And then, hurriedly, "I'll have to call you back..." click.  Holy Shit!  In all my wartime calls with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past seven years, I'd never before been interrupted by incoming ordinance!  He did call back, thank God.  And the first thing he pointed out was that this incident demonstrated what most folks back home, here, seem to have forgotten; that the war is not over in Afghanistan, that our service members there face the ultimate danger every single day.  "Its still the real thing over here," he said.

Lee Reinhart joined the US Navy in 1995 after coming out and subsequently leaving the bible college he'd been attending in rural Indiana.  He could have gone off to Chicago or some other big city to live freely, have fun, and just be himself.  But, he chose to serve his country.  Deployed in the Persian Gulf aboard the guided missile cruiser USS COWPENS CG63, he was more or less open with his peers.  Eventually, during that DADT era, too many people knew he was gay, and he had to come out to his operations officer in order to free his peers from having to keep his secret and to free himself of the same stress.  The Ops Officer laughed, he said, and told him, "Get back to work."

He was honorably discharged in 1999.  But, being a patriot like many others, he was moved to rejoin in 2001 after the WTC attack; this time he joined the Cost Guard.  Unfortunately, his openness resulted in his being discharged within four months under the DADT law.

He spent the next nine years as an activist for gay rights and the right to serve in our armed forces.  On the day that DADT was repealed, December 21, 2010, he was in Washington DC and went to the grave of Leonard Matlovich in Congressional Cemetery, with Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley, and placed an American flag there. Quigley stated, “The repeal of the morally repugnant ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is further evidence that this country continues to move inexorably toward equality and civil rights for all. What Sgt. Matlovich started three decades ago was finished this week because of heroes like Lee Reinhart, and it is a privilege to share this moment with both of them.” Lee added, “I am honored to be in Washington to see the end of the discrimination that ended the career of Sgt. Matlovich and so many other brave Americans. This will put an end to the lies that patriots—both gay and straight—have had to tell to keep themselves and their comrades in the service of their nation. I look forward to the chance to serve my country again, without having to live a lie.”

 
(SOURCE: Quigley's House Website http://quigley.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=413)

As DADT was repealed, he spent the year preceding the first day that we could serve openly preparing for his reenlistment.  He'd contacted his former Captain of the cruiser he'd served on in the Navy, assuming that he, too, had known he was gay.  Now a retired Admiral, he said that he had not been told, that he would have had to discharge him had he known, but that he would have hated to have had to do that.  He wrote a letter of recommendation so that Lee could be among the first of those discharged under DADT to be able to reenlist in the Navy.  Lee Reinhart reenlisted on October 24th, 2011, just over a month after the first day that open service was permitted.  With Lee's family in attendance, Rep. Quigley administered the oath to him, as shown in this ABC video http://youtu.be/m-qyj86UEt8

He is now on a one-year individual deployment as an E-5 Logistics Specialist, LS2, Petty Officer Second Class, whose job it is to inspect and determine the disposition of military material destined to be disposed of.  He has the responsibility to make sure that parts cannot be used to make weapons to be used against our troops.  He regularly flies by helicopter all over Afghanistan on this mission.  "The small bases are the most dangerous," he said, casually, just after his main base had apparently been hit as we spoke.

So, "what is it like, how does it feel?" I wanted to know, after all this time, to be back serving his country in a combat zone.

"I have no regrets; this is what I wanted to do.  I hope my service honors all those who fought so hard for the right to serve.  I'm blessed to be here," he said. But, it isn't easy, he added after a pause.  "Military life is hard.  I'm going to be forty years old in a few weeks.  You forget how much privacy you give up.  It's been a hard adjustment.  It's not really about being gay, it's adjusting to being older."

Things have changed, of course.  There is no longer a need for secrecy, no longer a need to have to hide who you are.  Even there, via social media, small groups can arrange to meet and socialize, openly using on-base facilities "on the boardwalk."

He's able to use the Internet to follow the progress we are making here on marriage and other issues; but he misses his nine years of activist work.  "It's hard not to be in campaign mode; but I'm reaping the benefits of what I fought for."

Imagine that kind of patriotism!  I call Lee Reinhart a perpetual patriot because, while many of us are deeply proud of our service, few have the patriotic determination that he seems to have to have joined not once, or twice, but three times in order to finish what he started.  May we all wish for his safety.

With thanks to Michael Bedwell for additional research and information.

  2013 Gay Military Signal